For Matthew Archuleta, the experience of growing up outside of Los Angeles and serving in the U.S. Army as a Special Forces Green Beret, although quite different from one another, pulled him in a singular direction — toward helping veterans find a home.
“I grew up in Los Angeles, the epicenter of the national homeless crisis, where I saw the American dream fade for countless veterans,” he says. “I made a promise to bring my soldiers home from combat and want to help ensure all veterans finally get a home.”
Believing that a career in real estate development is the first step to being able to make a difference, Archuleta is now earning his MBA at Yale School of Management as a member of The Consortium’s class of 2022. He recently shared with us how his family inspired his military career, how his military service instilled in him the value of diversity and how he believes his MBA will help him have a greater impact on veterans’ lives.
What instilled in you the desire to join the military and to ultimately help fellow veterans?
My father was the commissioner of military and veterans’ affairs for the county of Los Angeles. He was a veteran himself from the ’60s, in the 82nd Airborne Division in the Army. I grew up watching veterans call him any time of the day or night and stop him on the street. Veterans don’t usually call to say good things about their situation — there’s always some problem they need help fixing — and my dad always worked to find a solution. That really instilled in me this desire to see what I can do for people and to realize that no problem is too big or too complex to solve.
He did that while he was a real estate agent. So, I also got to see, on the other side of that, him finding homes for happy families. Sometimes those two things met, where he was able to help veterans get housing. Seeing that growing up ended up being more impactful than I realized at the time.
Tell me about your journey to the Army. What was that like?
I watched my brother go off to West Point before me, and then, when the time came for me, I was able to follow in his footsteps. I was commissioned as an infantry officer in 2010 when I graduated, and I served in the 82nd Airborne like my father did, deployed to Afghanistan, saw combat, came back and tried out for a unique position where I got the opportunity to essentially do the same role I did in the 82nd in Afghanistan – where I was leading 36 infantry soldiers — but this time it was as a peacekeeper in Kosovo, which gave me an interesting view of that leadership role in both wartime and peace.
After that, I tried out for Special Forces because I realized I really liked working with foreign partners, and I believed that was the best way to accomplish our national objectives, our national interests, and really support those who needed it most. I was selected and trained and spent a majority of my time serving in West Africa and, most recently, deployed to the Middle East. I actually left the deployment to see my son be born in October of 2019. Then I decided it was time to hang up the uniform.
So what compelled you to follow in your father’s and brother’s footsteps?
I think it ultimately came down to wanting to be a leader. I did a lot of self-reflection and noticed leadership was a role I tried to step into any chance I got. Whether it was being the president of the student body in high school, or even among my peers and friends, I just enjoyed leading, and I knew that this was a way I could do that. And, certainly, I saw the incredible impact the military had in my father’s life. It’s something he credits a lot of his success to, getting him out of some bad neighborhoods growing up and giving him focus and direction.
How do you think your childhood and where you grew up shaped your perspective on life as well as your career goals?
First and foremost, growing up in Southern California, I was in a majority-minority neighborhood. So, at West Point, that was my first wake-up call. I was one of 64 graduates in my class of 2010 who was Hispanic or Latino, so it was a huge culture shock to go there and see that everybody’s different. It was through my experience in the Army where I learned that the more diverse perspectives you can bring together, the better and stronger the ideas you’ll be able to come up with — especially in the military, where you have to be able to think and act quickly.
Without diversity of thought, you’re never going to come up with innovative solutions to get out of a problem safely. It was that perspective that made me realize how incredibly important it was to foster that type of environment. For that reason, I ran for and was elected as the vice president for my West Point class. It is important to ensure diverse voices are in every conversation.
Did your experience at West Point and as a Green Beret help further shape your perspective?
Yes. West Point strips you of your individuality when you show up; that’s the whole purpose of any service or any service academy. They don’t want you to be concerned with yourself. You’re concerned with the team, and you’re concerned with the person to your left and to your right. It’s why the Army is actually, a lot of times, the leader in diversity when it comes to forcing social change, because you build that comradery and that respect with each other, because you’re being forced to solve a complex problem for your own good and forcing people into a room to figure it out. By doing that for a common goal, a lot of times, it brings people together.
Having that experience was incredibly impactful because it made me reflect on myself, my values and on becoming more of a team player. West Point really prepares you to be a leader, to be present, to speak well, to respond effectively. That environment is a struggle initially as you’re learning and growing, but it was an incredible opportunity to make lifelong friends. The more I challenged myself, the more challenges I won and the more I failed — which happened all the time — the more I learned to pick myself up and to get it right the next time.
Was there a point at which you decided to focus your career on helping veterans? How did you decide that business real estate was the right path?
I would say after that first deployment to Afghanistan; one of my soldiers was killed on that deployment. After I left, I stayed in touch with a lot of those soldiers. But then I heard about one of them developing an addiction problem. Unfortunately that soldier ended up dying a few years ago. I don’t know if something from that deployment stayed with him, but I started thinking about that: the incredible burden that these young men and women take on and then come back home. How do you talk about it? How do you describe it? How do people understand? Do they care? They may not recognize you. And if veterans can’t cope well, they have a list of problems — and then it’s a spiral. They find themselves in hard times.
It’s not just about getting them under a roof. It’s about getting them under a roof and then providing them the benefits they deserve from the VA, from local organizations. I see them as one of my soldiers and that makes it personal for me. I want to do whatever I can for them. In fact, I’ve started volunteering here in Connecticut for a fantastic organization called the Columbus House. They are specifically helping homeless veterans, putting them in hotels around New Haven County. That’s extremely important to me, bringing it full circle, seeing what my dad was doing growing up, seeing the effect that he could have just by listening and providing a little bit of compassion. That can really make a difference in somebody’s life. Seeing all of those things come together, I realized it’s what I want to do.
How do you hope to help homeless veterans specifically?
I’d love to start a nonprofit someday and really provide that holistic support to homeless veterans. I realized that a focus on finance might be the best way to do that. So I’m looking right now at different finance options, whether that’s investment management, investment banking with a real estate focus — or if that means getting into real estate development.
How do you believe your MBA will help you make that a reality? How is Yale helping you get there?
First and foremost, I would say the MBA provides me financial acumen. Having the leadership background is incredibly helpful, but being able to transition that from a military setting to a business setting, I needed that business, that financial background to be able to make that happen — and that’s what Yale School of Management is able to provide me. Yale is incredibly helpful. In the population that matriculated at Yale, I sense the desire to be a leader in business and society. It’s incredibly enriching and frankly very humbling to be surrounded by so many incredible people. Seeing the innovative ways that people want to better the lives of people around them is an inspiration.
When you learned of The Consortium, did you feel like your goals aligned with its mission?
Absolutely — and I think about graduates from West Point, me being in a class of a thousand with roughly 64 Latinx cadets. We need to do better, and we need to be a mentor to everyone behind us who wants to do better. We need to be the people who encourage them to do it, because diversity is a strength. It’s our job to help everybody get where we are — and, frankly, surpass us. Especially now that I have a son who’s almost 2 years old, I want him to do everything he wants to do, to never get into a situation where he doesn’t feel comfortable or where he’s looked at differently. He needs all the same opportunities.
Do you have any advice for veterans who may be considering pursuing an MBA?
Start early, really focus on the culture of the organization, reach out to the veterans’ networks, get help with your resume, make sure somebody reads your essays, never be afraid to ask for help. Your experiences are very much appreciated in the classroom. The worst any school could ever tell you is ‘no.’